Tool Care for Now – and Years to Come

Staying safe has been on the news for the last two years. So, perhaps you are safe from virus at this point – but how about your garden tools – are they safe to use? Research by OSHA shows that probably not!

Spend some time now to make your gardening tools safer to use.

Safety First

Back in Journalism we learned that “fear sells.” I started my story with a call to action that included an element of fear. I don’t want to scare you, but I do want you to read this and be safe out there. (This from the lady that has fallen backwards off a ledge while raking, had a wheelbarrow fall over and crush leg tendons (still recovering), and generally has at least 5 scratches, nicks, and splinters at any one time.)


Tool Handles – Wood Care

Our dry Southwestern climate really does a number on wood. Even tools kept in a shed, out of sunlight, will dry out. Help prevent splinters or broken tools with a little oil ahead of time.



Everything with a wooden handle benefits from a good soak with oil. Linseed oil works well, as does any cooking oil. Soak a flannel rag or old tee shirt with oil and rub it right in. Keep adding oil as long as it soaks in. This can be a surprising number of applications. How much oil also depends on the species of wood and the grain exposed. All wooden handles benefit from oils, even if they are already rough and splintery. Don’t forget the wheelbarrow shafts and handles too.

Yes, Granddad oiled his tools with used crankcase oil, and I salute his thriftiness – but! Used motor oil has been heated super hot in your engine and thus has broken down somewhat. It had an acidic component not found in fresh oil. Wood is best treated with vegetable oils, not mineral oils. Think of it this way – wood is plant-based and should be fed a plant-based diet.



Science Nerd shares – About Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a by-product of refining crude oil.

Crude oil was originally plants millions of years ago, but these ancient plants became fossilized or mineralized over time. Problem is that once they became mineralized they also became definitely carcinogenic to humans” according to the World Health Organization.

Let’s reduce our exposure to carcinogens and keep mineral oil for inside of metal machinery.


Sharpen You Tools

Get out the sharpening instruments. Don’t have any? Every gardener should have a whetstone and flat file, and know how to use them. If you have a grinder, you can use that for some sharpening tasks – like shovels and hoes.

Use the Whetstone

For pruners and loppers use the whetstone. Most whetstones have a coarse side and a fine side. Start using the coarse side of the stone if your tools have nicks in the blade. Otherwise the finer side is sufficient.


Put enough honing oil on the stone so that a light sheen appears on the surface. Set the beveled edge of your blade so that the bevel is flat against the stone. Keeping this angle, pull the blade across the stone. Or the stone across the blade. Turn the blade or stone evenly as you pull so that the whole edge becomes sharp. The edge will start to develop a bright edge if you are holding it at the correct angle. Keep honing until all nicks have disappeared and the blade is sharp.

Often a burr, a thin ridge of metal, will roll over the back of the beveled edge. Simply lay the flat edge against the stone and draw it across once. Then go back to beveled edge and give it a couple of light strokes to break off the burr.

It takes some practice to learn to use a whetstone. Do not get discouraged. Keep practicing. You can’t really hurt your tools with a whetstone. Worse comes to worse, hardware stores offer sharpening services.

Why is a Sharper Tool Safer?

Simply put – sharper tools cut more easily. So you have to work less hard with every cut.  And so you will not get so tired. Tired people get forgetful, and then they back off ledges and get hurt.


Dig Better with Sharp Edges

Sharpen your digging implements too. This is where you can use a flat file or grinder, or keep using the whetstone. Put an edge on hoes, shovels, spades, cultivators and yes, even your hand trowels. While diggers should not be as sharp as cutters, it sure makes digging easier if the edge is honed to a less-than-blunt edge. Again – easier digging makes you less tired at the end of the task, and less likely to make safety mistakes.

Clean is Good

Finally – make sure you get mud and debris off metal tools. Ideally, you should clean your tools after every use. Remove alkaline soil from digging implements to help them last longer. Plant acids and other compounds should be removed from cutting implements to prevent pitting of the metal. After cleaning, wipe down metal and wooden parts with an oily rag or spray some WD-40 (yes it’s mineral- based, but it’s better than nothing).

Yes – clean that sunflower sap off your pruners. The sap can pit the metal over time and make the blade dull.


Take Care of Your “Stuff”

With good care, good tools can last a generation, or two, or more. I still have tools that I purchased three decades ago. And they have seen some hard use.

More treasured still are the tools I inherited from my Granddad. Some of those have been in use for seventy years now. With good care they should last into the next generation.

Thanks for reading!


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